Seven Books by George Mackay Brown
On Monday 19 April, 2021 at 7pm writer Ron Ferguson introduced Magnus, regarded by some as the finest novel George Mackay Brown wrote. The Centenary Book Group, hosted by the GMB Fellowship and Orkney Library & Archive, was chaired by Alison Miller. People from across the world as well as Orkney joined us for the first in the series of Seven Books.
In his second novel, Magnus (1973), George Mackay Brown draws on the 12th century Orkneyinga Saga and reimagines the story of one of Orkney’s Norse earls, Magnus Erlendsson, murdered by his cousin Hakon at peace talks on the Island of Egilsay c1017. The story of Magnus is interwoven with the stories of Orkney people living outwith the circles of power and influence. Their hardship is compounded by the Earls’ conflict and events beyond their control; but among them are some whose lives and vision are altered by Magnus’s influence and sacrifice.
The smallest spume-drop is not lost – it is here, there, nowhere, everywhere, a frail blown cluster of salt bubbles; but also an emerald, an opal . . . This fragrant vivid ghost was everywhere and always, but especially he haunted the island of his childhood.
Magnus (The Hogarth Press, 1973) p. 204
Cover image by Ian MacInnes
'If football is, as some say, the working man’s opera, then Ron Ferguson is the Puccini of his day.' The Scottish Football Historian
Award-winning writer and playwright Ron Ferguson read philosophy and history at St Andrews University and graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a first class honours degree in theology, followed by postgraduate studies at Duke University, North Carolina. After eight years’ ministry in the Easterhouse housing scheme, Glasgow, he was elected leader of the ecumenical Iona Community. He was minister of St Magnus Cathedral for eleven years, and was theologian-in-residence at White Memorial Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, North Carolina.
In 2011 his biographical work, George Mackay Brown: The Wound and the Gift, exploring the poet’s life and conversion to Catholicism, was published to wide acclaim. In a commission for the St Magnus Festival in 2017, he wrote the libretto for The Story of Magnus Erlendson, an opera with composer Gemma McGregor about the death of Magnus and about his mother, Thora. His books about football and community, Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil and Helicopter Dreams, are currently being adapted into a play to be directed by David Greig in Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre.
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7pm Monday 19 April 2021
Ron Ferguson Magnus
7pm Monday 17 May 2021
Simon Hall The Year of the Whale
7pm Monday 7 June 2021
Pamela Beasant Letters from Hamnavoe
7pm Thursday 29 July 2021
Morag MacInnes, Fiona MacInnes and Anne Bevan: Bairns’ Stories
7pm Monday 20 September
Linden Bicket and Kirsteen McCue: An Orkney Tapestry
7pm Monday 11 October 2021
Malachy Tallack Simple Fire: Selected Short Stories
7pm Monday 18 October 2021
Maggie Fergusson For the Islands I Sing
Return to GMB Centenary 2021
Featured image: photograph of George Mackay Brown (detail) by Gunnie Moberg courtesy Orkney Library and Archive